Weekend Athlete: 2009 Subaru Forester

Subaruforester

Ever since New Coke, I’m leery whenever someone decides to "improve" something I like. So when Subaru said it was redesigning the Forester, I knew I had to drive it, but I was a bit afraid of finding out what had changed. The old car was a gem. I’ve rented one several times and it took me to many cross-country ski trails and races. The new model had a lot to live up to.

Well, I’ve got good news: Subaru didn’t mess up. The new Forester still tastes like old Coke … or whatever.

There’s a long-form review that covers the changes, as well as how the Forester performs off-road, so I’ll focus on its toy-carrying abilities. In that department, it excels in every category.

I’d have no hesitation taking four people camping in this car. The cargo area is enormous and, in a true improvement over the old model, there’s more legroom for rear passengers.

My bike went in with so much extra space left over I’d need to secure it with bungee cords to keep it from flopping around. That’s so much nicer than the cars where I have to wedge my bike into place.

Same deal with the camping stuff; there was plenty of room and plenty of different ways to configure the cargo. The hatch also opens nice and high, so I didn’t bang my head when I loaded my stuff.

Just to be sure, I asked one of the shorter athletes in the office to check the liftgate’s height, and she said it was fine, so I can recommend this car to shorter folks, too. The load floor isn’t too high, either, which should help everybody.

If there’s a downside, it’s that I liked the look of the old one so much more than the new one. The old model stood out from the rest of the small SUV crowd by being more of a wagon, yet it was brawnier than anything else in the Subaru family. I think the old look carried much more locker room cred, too, because it was shorter and therefore easier to use a roof rack on — if that’s your thing.

A lot of times I’ll qualify my recommendations by saying something like, “If you don’t want a sedan, test-drive this car,” or “If you don’t want a SUV, try this one,” but with the Forester I think it deserves strong recommendation no matter what you’re shopping for. Yes, it’s shed its brawny, wagon look for a more bland SUV style, but it remains quite capable. Even if you hate the SUV look, consider this car if it fits your budget.

Weekend Athlete Scores (out of 10)

Ease of loading gear — 9: Lots and lots of room, and the easy-opening hatch was the clincher. Ease of seat operation – 9: Simple knobs are best.

Bike hauling — 9: The bike went in easily with the wheels on, meaning the Forester lovefest continues …

Locker room cred — 5.5: … until now. The new look blends in, saying, “I’m not secure in a wagon.” If you’re not secure in a wagon, how secure are you going to be on a bike going 35 mph wearing nothing but shorts and a helmet?

All-around — 8.5: It’s a solid choice if you like to go places with outdoors stuff.

Comments 

Cj

Subaru should have kept Forrester in the AWD off road wagon category. Now that it's more CUVish it has to compete with giants like the CR-V and RAV-4. If I were in the market for a compact CUV I'd likely choose CR-V or RAV-4 over the Forrester.

My 2001 Forester 5-speed is just broken-in so however fine the new car is, I won't be ready for years.

As a British writer said years ago, the Forester rides on the "gifted Impreza chassis." So true. These cars are so packed with ability it can re-arrange your car universe.

I've driven late model Mercedes that resort to traction control where my Forester doesn't even notice. The Merc's bottom-out over bumps that a Forester steps over like a fetch dog who sees your pump-fake before you do.

Drawbacks include no telescoping steering wheel (none on the '09) and no 5-speed automatic transmission. Wheel bearings can be fragile.

The flat engine powertrain is in a league of its own. No other maker can touch it for simplicity, durability, and dynamics. There's a strong argument (among same-sized 4WD's) for gas mileage too.

It has less weight to haul around than in an Outback. Outback however has telescoping steering.

CJ,
Since the Forester comes standard with AWD it is $2000 less than the CR-V AWD and $3000 less than the RAV4 AWD. Personally I'd take it over the RAV but I'm not sure about the CRV. Still it is better equipped for less $ that should help.

Cj

My main beef with the Forrester is it can only seat 4 comfortably because of the "hump" in the floor. The CR-V and RAV-4 have flat rear floors to make it more comfortable to seat 5.

Cj

Dave T. the Forrester is the only $700 cheaper than a CR-V not $2000. The price you quoted was for the manual, but the autos are nearly the same price. Now I know I would definitely take the CR-V over this.

IMO,
the CRv and Rav4 are the ones that are outclassed, not the other way around. CJ, you keep saying you'd take a CRV over this one, that must just be a preference for Hondas because the forester does everything better and looks better to boot. In addition, it is safer and just as reliable.

Broq

Cj

The Forrester looks generic and in what ways does it "outclass" the RAV-4 and CR-V. I just said that it doesn't have as much space as the RAV-4 and CR-V, you can't deny that the hump in the back makes it harder to seat 5 comfortably.

I recently drove the new Forester and I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be. It's a big step up from the last one in terms of useful space and a comfortable driving experience. It also has that huge moonroof!

However, the CR-V has one of the best transmissions around. It really does. It is an incredibly smooth driving car.

The forester has a friendlier cargo set up though with the rear seats folding down and not like the cr-vs.

Subaru lost in one important category here...transmission. Other than a base model, only a 4 speed automatic is available.

Tony

I totally agree with CJ. Sometimes I wish that my bike was the only thing I carry in the car. But often I have wife, 2 kids and mother-in-law. And that hump in the forester... Toyotas are true champions of the hump. I can't even think of one Toyota that has it. Not Corolla, Camry, Avalon or RAV-4.
As CR-V goes... I had a day-long date with it and it is out of my considerations. Nice dash but generally not impressed with ride comfort. RAV-4 very good but the rear door is killing me.
Never drove but like Outlander's setup. Murano is ugly with small trunk but nice inside.
And Forester's tranny is forced error. Not enough factory capacity to produce 5AT for all Subaru models and can't re-tool because still need those trannys even if they 4AT. Next year all Subarus should have 5AT.

Cj

The Forester's transmission isn't that bad considering they were able to get the same fuel economy as the CR-V, but the drawback is that they geared the transmission for fuel economy and not for performance. The best example of this would the GMC Acadia which gets raves for seating and styling, but major woes for it's transmission. I haven't driven the new Forester yet so I can't say the transmission's gearing is bad, but that's what it looks like based on the fuel economy. That's why Dave said that he felt the CR-V had one of the best transmissions around and is an incredibly smooth driving car. The only difference is a 5 spd and a 4 spd that are geared differently. So I doubt the Forester drives as well as the CR-V. But the RAV-4 is another story. The RAV-4 is overpriced in comparison and has a 4 spd transmission geared toward fuel economy (like the Forester's) in 4cyl models which feesl anemic, but the RAV's saving grace would be its 268 hp V6 with a 6 spd transimission. So IMHO the Forester doesn't benchmark anyone in this segment. If you want a fuel efficient 4 cyl with a good feel get a CR-V, if you prefer more power get a V6 RAV-4.

@Cj, et al: I’ve tested the CR-V and the RAV4 in addition to the Forester and for me the choice is clear: The Forester is the best choice for the Weekend Athlete.

The CR-V … yeah, it didn’t hold anything better than the Forester did and I felt like I was sitting in my ex girlfriend’s living room. (In other words, it was too clean and I never felt comfortable. God help me if I spilled anything.)

The RAV4? Once you get around the barn door they put on the back, there’s OK –- but not great -- room. And really, those rear doors are a pain if you race/camp/do anything with a cargo area.

Bottom line, neither is as good as the Forester when it comes to carrying my toys. As far as this test is concerned, the Forester does benchmark the competition.

rob

if only subaru would design their cars for people taller than 5'9" ... i tried so hard to fit into the old forrester and new impreza, but my knees were wrapped around the steering wheel.

Cj

Bill J: So I guess the Forester will still fill a niche in the compact CUV segment, but IMO it probably won't appeal to the mass market.
Rob: Average height women (core market for compact CUVs)-5'3''
Average height men-5'9"
This is made for the majority of people, but if you don't "fit" in the Forester there are other options.

Phil

I have not had a chance to drive any of the previously mentioned vehicles, but I have examined all 3. I do not recall the RAV4 or CR-V getting fuel mileage quite as good as the Forester. That was one thing that caught my eye. Also I do not believe those other vehicles have the same cargo capacity. That was the other thing that caught my eye.
I was pleasantly surprised by the leg room - both front and back. I'm 6'0" and I could sit comfortably in the back seat with the front seat adjusted for my height. I notice that was an issue for Rob, so you may want to try the new one.
The one question I have is the length of the cargo floor, with the seat down. Did you measure that? If not, how long is your bike? All specifications give cargo capacity in cubic feet and that means nothing to me. As your bike illustrates, it doesn't matter what the volume capacity is if it isn't long enough (or tall enough) to accomodate what you want to carry.
Also, I am disappointed that they still use a 4 speed automatic. I have no qualms with a manual, but my wife says she wants an automatic next time. Almost everyone has a 5AT these days.

@ Phil: Yeah, sorry, I usually put this in the post. I ride a 58-cm bike frame and I'm about 6'1". So, guessing that we're close to the same size, I figure it'd take whatever bike you had.

As for the 4-speed, I agree absoltely. I don't always get a long, long time in the cars, so I tend to stay away from the stuff our long-term, expert reviews can cover better. But, yeah, a 4-speed isn't great at all.

Cj

Maybe just don't "get" the appeal of the Forester because I'm not the "weekend athlete" type. The only thing that I see that the Forester has that the others don't is an optional manual tranny. Most Americans (like 95% or something) buy automatics cause most Americans are lazy and don't want to "feel" the drive, so for most thats not really a plus. The Forester also has standard AWD which would be a plus for the outdoorsy camper types (Subaru's core market), when gas prices are going through the roof a lot of consumers would like to see a more fuel efficient 2WD version (l know I'm talking about Subaru but...it'd be nice to see). The Forester has a fold flat rear seat which makes loading cargo much easier, but when the 2nd row is up storage is limited and it doesn't have bi-level storage like the CR-
V which is more convenient when you run to the store with the kids than fold flat rear seat. Speaking of kids, with the Forester you can only seat 2 comfortably vs most of the competition which have "hump-less" flat rear floors which makes easier to bring grandma along too. We all are already well informed about the lack of a 5AT so I won't even mention that, and since styling is subjective I won't even slam it for looking like a Mitsubishi mixed with Hyundai tossed in a bland sauce for appeal. Maybe I'm being too harsh on it, but it certainly doesn't appeal to me...AT ALL.

Cj

^ I've had a long week and you can probably tell by the lack of grammar in that paragraph. Here it is with some more again with a little lee confusion:

Maybe I just don't "get" the appeal of the Forester, because I'm not the "weekend athlete" type. The only thing that I see that the Forester has that the others don't is an optional manual tranny. Most Americans (like 95% or something) buy automatics cause most Americans are lazy and don't want to "feel" the drive, so for most that's not really a plus. The Forester also has standard AWD which would be a plus for the outdoorsy camper types (Subaru's core market), but when gas prices are going through the roof a lot of consumers would like to see a more fuel efficient 2WD version (l know I'm talking about Subaru but...it'd be nice to see). The Forester has a fold flat rear seat which makes loading cargo much easier, but when the 2nd row is up storage is limited, and it doesn't have bi-level storage like the CR-V which is more convenient when you run to the store with the kids. Speaking of kids, with the Forester you can only seat 2 comfortably vs most of the competition which have "hump-less" flat rear floors, which makes it easier to bring grandma along too. We all are already well informed about the lack of a 5AT so I won't even mention that, and since styling is subjective I won't even slam it for looking like a Mitsubishi mixed with a Hyundai tossed in a bland sauce for appeal. Maybe I'm being too harsh on it, but it certainly doesn't appeal to me...AT ALL.

That should be a bit better.

Cj

^ Did I just mess that up again? Definitely time for a vacay. Second sentence:
Here it is with some more grammar and a little less confusion

Cj

no comment? ...anyone?...anyone?

Tony

Forester or ANY Subaru, they just don't know how to create comfort for the rear passenger. Did anyone ever sat in the back seat of Outback? I tell you. This is not fun. This is where Toyota and Honda will make Forester look simply stupid. And as weekend athlete, what in this world Forester can do that RAV4 can't? More space? - you must be kidding. RAV4 designed for 3 rows and is bigger.
Just because Forester is new doesn't mean it is better. Forester is attractive car but I still don't see where is Subaru's effort to fix those details. May be this is just a part of the plan - to keep Forester below Rav-4. I heared Subaru is partially subsidised by Toyota and even assembles some Camry's on its factories.

Cj

Tony don't even call the RAV's third row a plus. It's a ridiculously stupid joke. Who do the expect to sit back there? It's all marketing, just so they can say that the RAV seats 7, when it's obvious it shouldn't. Although, what you said about Toyota squashing the Forester so that it looks worse than the RAV, could be true.

Martin

As a current 2003 RAV-4 owner and past Subaru owner two times, I can tell you that any 4 banger out there will whimp out when loaded with people and gear. Try climbing to Lake Tahoe or passing an couple of big rigs with monster SUVs on your tail. Now we small SUV drivers have a decent choice. The 2009 Forester Turbos and the RAV V6s are both fun in you just point and shoot your way up the hill or around slower traffic. And both cars can do this with automatics. We just test drove both cars this weekend and decided on getting the Forester XT. It has nimble steering and a ginormous sun roof. My two teenage kids preferred the second row seats on the Forester and laughed when they tried the third row on the RAV. The Rav V6 also has plenty of power, but the two reasons put it out of the running for us. One, the rear door tail gate is a big pain. Especially if you garage it and want to open it with the garage door closed. Two, there are RAV's everywere here. They're like rabbits. Everywhere you look, more keep popping up. We wanted something a little more special and the 09 Forester makes that work for us.

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